Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones.
Two household names, right? But without two very important words, it’s likely not many people would know about either of them.
These words? Education and mentorship.
Both Hendrix and Jones grew up in the Central District of Seattle, before the Civil Rights Era. Racism might not have been as overt as it was in the South, but blacks could not work, going to school, or live outside the Central District. It was, then, a three mile square area where African-Americans lived their lives. Work was hard to find after the production boom of World War II ended, and many folks in the Central District did not just face racism, but poverty as well.
What did provide people with opportunity? Music.
The Central District had a happenin’ music community. Youth like Quincy Jones were mentored by older musicians, such as a guy named Ray Charles, who moved to the Central District from Florida. Jones was also given the run of the music room at his school, Garfield High, by his band teacher.
Later on, Jimi Hendrix went to the same high school (remember the limits placed on African-Americans in Seattle?) and while he didn’t prosper there (not all teachers are created equal) he benefited from talented mentors just as Jones did.
These mentors, who had nothing to personally gain by teaching youth, exemplified the most positive part of community participation. The connections they made and the values they instilled had far-reaching effects – just ask anyone who saw Hendrix at Woodstock, or heck, has listened to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which Jones produced.
Hendrix in Seattle, circa 1958 (www.historylink.org)
Not everyone, obviously, can expect the same success as Hendrix and Jones, but that’s not the point. The real important part is people coming together and learning from each other, and building community.
Fast-forward to present-day Edmonton, and someone who understands this is a Chilean born musician and artist, Sebastian Barrera. An incredible performer in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, Barrera is also on the board for Edmonton’s Heart of the City Music Festival. He has also created a free school of arts, called Creart Edmonton, held at Parkdale -Cromdale Community League Hall every Saturday morning from 9AM-Noon.
The community league graciously donated the space for free, so each class can be held without a charge to the students. The music teachers involved donate their time as well. Each class starts off with an hour of vocal lessons. Then an hour in the classroom, sectioned off so beginners can learn a few chords, and more advanced students the nuances of music theory.
Following the theory classes, everyone comes back together for an hour of jamming. Participants can join the circle and play guitar, piano, or the drums (and likely the triangle would be ok too). Not surprisingly for Barrera, art and music go hand in hand with community development. As he asserts:
Years ago being an artist was not about fame but was about community. I come from a country (Chile) where we have important examples of musicians who dedicated their lives to change society and that type of commitment inspires me to work hard to make a difference. In my opinion artists have a big responsibility as communicators and they should work hard to be the voice of those who don’t have the ability to express themselves, and they should be activists working toward strong social changes.
As such, Barrera’s goal is to have as many Edmontonians have this opportunity as possible. His vision is for this to inspire more free schools of arts all over the city. “Current students will start doing classes in other communities and in that way we can spread cells around.”
The positive impact of this vision is clear, as jam participant (and CJSR volunteer) Benjamin Arkless highlights, relating that “it’s an incredible opportunity for community development and it’s truly bringing a source of happiness to my life, knowing there’s a place every week where you are welcome – at any skill level to play with other people in the community – all walks of life and ages welcome.”
Arkless goes on to say that, “Parkdale-Cromdale is a true community league that isn’t simply renting the hall out to private things but a place open freely and voluntarily run. It is active and alive. So I like that, it makes Edmonton a good place to be.”
If folks want to know how they can help, Barrera encourages them to send students (of all-ages) to Creart on Saturday mornings. and, of course, to come out themselves. Everyone is welcome to share their skills, whatever they happen to be.
People are also welcome to join the students on the last Friday of every month at Parkdale-Cromdale Hall, for the Family Friendly Music Night. It’s a potluck AND concert! For details on the one happening Friday April 25th, check out the Facebook event here!
There’s also an important fundraising event called “Mano a Mano con Valparaiso” happening at, you guessed it, Parkdale-Cromdale Hall on Saturday, April 26th. It’s to raise money for Valparaiso, Barrera’s home city that was devastated by a fire a few weeks ago. There will be food, drinks and music from 4PM to 1 AM. As Barrera says, “come and help us to help others.” Click here for the Facebook event!
As for how else people can help with Creart Edmonton, Barrera suggests this great advice: “Give us space for more classes, connect us with sponsors or resources. Come to our concerts. Enjoy our facebook.”